Some readers may recall the promotional posters for Queer British Art, Tate Britain’s hugely popular exhibition last year.
In them a stern-looking Hannah Gluckstein (1895-1978), the quirky androgynous artist known as ‘Gluck’, stared down from billboards and Tube advertisements across London.
For many this was probably their first encounter with Gluck, but in the art world her star has been rising for sometime. In 2010, Christie’s London set Gluck’s record at auction, achieving a premium-inclusive £181,250 for the artist’s dual portrait of herself and her lover, Nesta Obermer.
But her work is rare. This is probably because she resolved to show only in solo exhibitions, of which there were just five during her lifetime. The Art Sales Index lists 21 auction results from 2004-18 (although it is likely to be a few more than this). So, when an opportunity does arise to acquire her work, competition can be fierce.
On October 12, a small, late serene seascape by Gluck was offered at Lawrences (20% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne.
The 5½ x 8in (14 x 21cm) was not a show-stopper in terms of subject but it did come in one of the artist’s trademark geometric frames with a gallery label for The Fine Art Society.
Gluck devised these frames to be hung against a wall of a similar colour, allowing the pictures to blend almost invisibly into their surroundings.
Guided at an appealing £1500- 2000, the picture drew bids from the book and the internet before it was knocked down to a private buyer from London for £7800.
“I was surprised at the level of interest as it’s not her most engaging subject,” said Lawrences picture specialist Richard Kay. “But people like the distinctness of it and they like the backstory to Gluck – she’s an intriguing artistic personality.”
The £269,000 picture section at Lawrences was led by Edward Seago’s (1910-74) jubilant Piccadilly by the Ritz, painted when he was in London as an official artist for the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
In need of a light clean but otherwise in good condition, the signed 19in x 2ft 1in (49 x 65cm) came from a private collection in Somerset. It doubled its top guide to sell for £62,000 to an anonymous buyer.
Seago’s coronation canvases, his most direct link to British royalty and their patronage, are among the most sought after on the secondary market. In December 2007, Sotheby’s London sold a 1953 oil depicting the coronation procession for a premium-inclusive £84,500. Its companion picture was chosen by the queen as the most successful painting of that procession.
The pick among the sculpture at Lawrences was a bronze creation by Modern British sculptor Denis Mitchell (1912-93).
The 12½in (32cm) high piece titled Polzeath was conceived in an edition of seven in 1974. It had been purchased by the local vendor’s late husband directly from Mitchell in his St Ives studio in 1985 and came with a photograph of the artist on the day it sold.
Acquired back then for around £1000-2000, it showed some decent appreciation when it tipped over top estimate to sell for £14,000 to a private buyer based in the home counties.
“The rise in demand for Cornish abstraction and the similarity to Hepworth and his own links to her made this a very appealing piece”, said Kay. The price is in line with two bronzes from the same edition that sold recently at Christie’s and Sotheby’s for £16,250 and £12,500 respectively.
While 20th century art held the upper hand for the more expensive works in the sale, Old Masters and 19th century pictures won out among the lower-valued lots. For the latter, this was particularly welcome.
“We have been very aware of the reduced amount of activity for 19th century pictures and have brought our estimates down quite determinedly as a result. But, finally at this sale, it seems people were realising what good value they are,” said Kay.